Posts tagged ‘contact’

Conceptualizing Contact

The curator intentionally makes this entry without still or video images, in order that a reader may imagine connecting the sensations individually involved in effecting contact when astride.

“Obtaining and maintaining soft contact- that is contact with the leg, seat and, reins is a considerably more complicated concept than any addressed thus far by this course. It entails, on the part of the rider, an awareness of his calves and –through his boot and saddle flap– a “feel” of the side of the horse. Simultaneously, the rider must be aware of the inside of his thigh, his seat bones, and lower back, and– through the saddle flap, the seat of the saddle, and the pad underneath it– “feel” the horse’s back. Also simultaneously, the rider must be aware of his own shoulders, elbows, wrists, and fingers, and –through his gloves, reins, and bit– the horse’s neck and head to get a “feel” of the horse’s mouth. It is all to be connected.

Actually, it is more complicated than that, or vastly simpler, once you understand that what we really want to do is feel and then control the horse’s individual hind legs, and, thereby controlling it’s back and shoulders. Which is why it is more apt to say that we “put the horse in front of the rider’s leg” than to say that we “put the horse on the bit” as an indication of a more intense, more energized degree of “riding on contact”.

Now, if all of this is complicated for a rider, who is, after all, a human being possessed of intelligence superior to the horse which, partner though it is becoming, is still an animal, then learning to go “on contact” is immensely more difficult for a horse. The horse must have that identical set of awarenesses, albeit in reverse, and must submit its animal will to its “feel” of, i.e. stimulation by, the rider. So be sympathetic, and question yourself if things are not going well.

More specifically, recheck the correctness of your overall position, and your position’s ability to fluidly follow and absorb the motion of the horse, without, in any way, interfering with the balancing gestures of the as yet undeveloped equine athlete. To do this, it is wise for the trainer, whether novice or vastly experienced, to develop or
refurbish his own seat and “feel” for contact by riding schooled horses alternately with green prospects. Whether riding a green or schooled horse, the mechanics of putting the horse “on contact” are the same. “

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Just sittin’ On Top of the World

World Class Warm-up II: Reiner Klimke

June 19, 2012 Following the Olympic Dressage Team and Individual selection process these recent weeks has been both fascinating and frustrating. Fascinating because it is happening everywhere, all over the world, and have been televised, live-streamed, filmed and web loaded by dedicated videographers. Frustrating because it is nigh on impossible to see all the rides of Olympic aspirants, all over the world. Even more frustrating because dedicated videographers and TV film crews focus, quite understandably, on the test rectangle itself, rather that the warm-up areas. It is the warm-up areas from which there is so much more to learn.

Although Dressage seems so temporal, if not downright urgent in an Olympic, or even World Equestrian Games year, it’s wise to remember that Dressage is timeless; the more things change, the more horses and humans remain the same.

Reiner Kilmke’s(1936-1999) horsemanship is timeless. His 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Gold medal victory, including one tempis, passage, piaffe, and extended trot with Ahlerich is iconic:

The man and horse had so captivated the imaginations of American horsemen, that we wanted more. He was invited to ride for the Madison Square Garden audience of the 1987 National Horse Show, and our good fortune was that he accepted.

Seven years he later he was back in Los Angeles, contesting the WorldCup with Biotop.

And the next year he rode Biotop at Aachen, where he was filmed in trot exercises the day before the Grand Prix. Studying this film illuminates so many aspects of excellence:

Many thanks to Bill Woods for making the effort to digitize his analog films, narrate and web-load Klimke’s and Biotop’s exercises.

WorldClass Warm-ups include Long&Low, EVERYDAY

Free Translation Widget

In recent months of sizzling summer-extreme heat and drought, here near the Confluence- I’ve watched innumerable videos of 2011 Aachen, The European Dressage Championships, and several other European Dressage shows, and have been inspired by such good riders, more as a matter of  ‘who knows, rather than who’s news.’

While the US Young and Developing Dressage Horse Championships and US National Grand Prix and Intermediare Championships were in process the last few weeks, at Wayne and Gladstone, I resorted frequently to usefnetwork.com live stream and a variety of news sources to glean new insight into progress by US competitors toward the ideals of Dressage.  For the tests themselves, internet videos provide excellent vantage points, typically better than being there.  And when I see one test performance clipped, I seek, and often find,  more videos of the same performance, recorded from other vantage points.

What I miss by not actually being there, is that I don’t see the warm-ups preceding the tests, as one can, if situated  cleverly at contest venues.

So over time I have surfed avidly for film clips of warm-ups by riders I admire, and who moments thereafter received high marks from FEI Judges. I have found few, alas, very few.  My current favorites of warm up clips, is Steffen Peters (US) and Ravel at 2009 Aachen, where they won the Grand Prix, Grand Prix Special, and Grand Prix FreeStyle. warming-up  for the Grand Prix Special which is, you may know is THE TEST of shortest duration, requiring the highest degree of collection for sustained  for the longest duration of any of the FEI TESTS.

(A new GPS test, written by the FEI, at the behest of the IOC, and much to the chagrin of the International Dressage Riders Club, for the purpose of entertaining network television viewers of London 2012, will be used from October 1, 2011 through December 31, 2012. I just read the new test. Containing all the same movements as the ‘normal’ GPS test, it is even shorter- more compact, and requires more muscular stamina. I think it an unnecessarily difficult means of testing against the ideal. Causing me to wonder, for our horses’ sakes, how to get television production under control. )

A view of Steffen Peters preparing Ravel for their 2009 Aachen Grand Prix Special triumph: ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

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And here’s what I see…from zero to 1:26 Steffen is loosening and promoting Ravel’s engagement  by posting vigorously, emphatically rising as vertically as possible, canting forward only by the inclination of his head and the visor or his cap. When he touches the saddle, he barely pats it. But he does pat it, to which the horse reacts by opening his thoracic spines upward.  Steffen opens the inside of Ravel by counter flexing and eliciting one stride of counter shoulder fore before riding each corner as a quarter volte. In this posture, for this horse’s degree of development, a quarter volte is three or four strides, rather than two, as in collection. Again counter flexing a stride before beginning a circle, he then ‘drives on,’ forward and down, asking for increased engagement into even contact, including, for the purpose of this exercise, the contact of the rider’s passively tense calf with horse’s latissimus dorsi, through saddle.

Contact with the rider’s hands, held wide apart as the rider’s hips, well below the horse’s withers, and therefore sensed by the horse from the rider’s hips, rather than from the rider’s elbows as when the riders hands but a hand’s width apart and just above the horse’s withers, is through the snaffle rein to the corner of the horse’s mouth and through the curb rein only by the weight of the curb rein and bit felt by the horse at its poll. The “drive on” is effected by the rider’s posting momentum including the projection of his center forward and the flexion of the rider’s calf each time rider rises with the horse’s inside leg. The rider’s hand senses to coming of throughness from behind and gives to permit forward energy flow, effecting repeated ‘half-forwards’  The horse’s posture is horizontal, weight distributed evenly fore and aft. Tail swinging indicates lack of spinal tension. Neck long, open and low, to poll below withers, flopping ears! Facial profile inside the vertical and moving toward the vertical as the exercise proceeds. Corner of horses mouth between point of horse’s shoulder and horse’s elbow.

Steffen executes the exercise as I find it is written in classical literature. This is how it is done. The first 86 seconds of this tape is the answer not only to “what is long and low?” but the current probe “How long and low is TOO long and low?” This tape exemplifies the limits.

In the very next seconds, and onward, Steffen administers exercises he has programmed to ready for the soon to be performed test. And there is vastly more to be learned, not the least of which is the relationship between half-pass and passage, by and for  those who have moved closer to this level of  development. About the rest of the tape I may write later, if only for the crystallization of my own thoughts. I chose to not edit, to not curtail, the tape because I did not want to remove any available context.

But back to long and low, everyday long and low:

What we don’t see in this clip is what preceded the administration of the exercise. Reasonable surmise is that he enjoyed a 10 minute walk ‘trail ride,’ mounted, from stable to the group warm up ring, where among other contestants, he continued to loosen with longitudinal and lateral exercises at trot and canter, awaiting his ten minutes of exclusive use of the private warm-up court penultimate to entrance to the test arena. And may have entered the private court at collected canter, just before the video starts. Such sequential build-up to performance is rarely, if ever afforded at lesser than International Championships venues.  Nonetheless, the first 1:26 of this clip is relevant to the work of all of our horses, at every stage of their progressions. Large circles, with the best possible contact,  long and low, emphasizing maintenance of rhythm and tempo and promoting engagement, is, early on, the lesson itself, for a horse in field school. It is valuable therapy for a horse coming out of rehabilitation. And it is essential preparation for a day’s lesson, or for test performance.

For advancing medium level horses, and further developing advanced horses, this exercise is included not only in warm-up, but also warm-down. As such horses tend to become too strong, it is best to leave the day on a soft, light note, making it easier to resume the next ride with softness and lightness.

Oh, almost forgot! I couldn’t find a clip of Ravel’s 2009 Aachen GPS, but here’s one of his triumph in the Freestyle, preceded, I imagine by a similar, if not identical warm-up.

2012 Winter Digest: To be one in motion with a horse……

Among the presenters at the 2011 Global Dressage Forum was Alizee Froment, CDI Grand Prix competitor and Chef of the French Pony Dressage Team, who discussed and demonstrated bitless riding.

Having gone on record that I recommend testing all the way through Grand Prix in a snaffle bit at US national meets, as is done in Great Britain,  I’ve also wondered about a separate…might it be called “Masters?” …division in which horses are tested, only at Prix St George and above, in a bitless headcollar. I actually do not object to bits, or bits and bridoons. I simply think that riders seats and tact would improve, and the intrinsic qualities of our horses’ motion would be enhanced, if the bridoon were not added, ever. And that riders would be able to achieve a quality of contact surpassing contact through a bit by riding with bitless head-collars. Because riders would get, from bitless riding, feedback from the motion of their horses that would improve their seats and tact. (I do not consider mechanical hackamores or bosals or hinged cavessons to be bitless headcollars.)

So I was frustrated that I did not find a transcript of  the discussion of bitless riding or a film of Alizee Froment’s demonstration at the GDF.

Only to be delighted to receive this video in New Year’s greetings from a German DressageUnderground participant.

Which caused me to surf a bit and find a video of the same horse doing the same exercises bitless but under saddle.

And a video of the same horse and rider combination being tested under rules three years prior.

I have very much enjoyed comparing the three videos and although I am administering gymnastic exercises with saddles and snaffles this winter, I think my own seat and tact may have notched up from watching these films.
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The Training Scale: Cultivating Contact

As a discerning reader may perceive, my blogging is as much an effort to crystallize my own thoughts on various aspects of Dressage, as to facilitate the learning of others who share this fascination, or, are even curious about it. More often than not, my concern is the Training Scale. So I was jogged to again attend CONTACT when I received this morning, from a thoughtful student, this missive:

111114124 sent you a video: “Uta Gräf // Graf & Le Noir – bitless riding May 2011”

Thank you for the news, I read it today.

Do you like bitless riding? Watch this video.

Uta Gräf // Graf & Le Noir – bitless riding May 2011

Le Noir born 2000 black Holstein stallion by Leandro x Caletto I and his rider Uta Gräf at home training some Grand Prix movements with bitless bridle.

To which I responded:

The video you sent provides an excellent example of how a rider may sit on a trained horse.

Thank you.

I have been thinking a lot about CONTACT recently, and about bitless riding. And reading Dr. Hilary Clayton’s research on both bitless bridles and ‘simple’ snaffles. You may read some of her findings in the link to Conference Proceedings from the article 2011 Autumn Digest: International Society for Equitation Science in the pages of DressageUnderground.

Bitless bridles facilitate the lesson of making horse and rider more conscious of the rider’s seat than hands. So they are valuable as a teaching aid. Although I do not, personally, wish to see bitless bridles in competition, I do wish that our National Federation would permit snaffles (bridoons without bits) in competition through Grand Prix Level, as is permitted in Britain, because I believe it would facilitate development of competitive riders seats as riders work up through the national levels.

Christopher Hyams, Saint Louis, Missouri, USA Http://DressageUnderground.wordpress.com

Thinking further about this, I am reminded of how my own horsemanship was elevated by riding bitless, for months on end, some 35 years ago, when, came into my life an otherwise beautifully conformed, but ‘parrot mouthed,’ four year old gelding. He was the first foal of both sire and dam, whom his breeder could not bear to cull. Not knowing where the gene came from, she gelded the sire, and vowed never to breed the mare again. She raised the foal healthfully, and had backed him. My first impression of Teddy  was that his potential as an athlete, and his personality, were undeniable. He wanted to play with me. The breeder offered to give him to me, with a bill of sale and no registration papers. I had looked the gift horse in the mouth, and could not turn him away.

I then spent nine months schooling him.  When, early on, I would ordinarily have hung a bit in the lunge cavesson, I didn’t.  I just continued on by transferring from voice commands  to leg and hand influences through the cavesson.  Soon I assembled, from odd bridle parts, a bitless bridle. Having then learned the exactly correct dimensions for Teddy, I had a hippy leather worker make a bridle to my specifications, and continued to school Teddy in his custom-made headstall.

About a year after my first meeting Teddy, it was time for a riding student to be introduced to foxhunting on her own, previously seasoned, field hunter. Having not fitted up a hunting horse for myself, but thinking Teddy ready, I vanned him to the fixture with the client’s horse. At the meet, the Hunt Secretary graciously welcomed my rider entry, but voiced her annoyance at Teddy’s head-gear. It was early in cubbing season, and we were all properly attired, but you would have thought I had shown up at The Blessing unbraided, in dungarees.  “That’s NOT a bridle” said my long-time, friend, who let me hunt back with my client, nonetheless.

Coincidentally, the Hunt Secretary did, herself , that day, have guests – a couple visiting from another Midwestern hunt.  The wife of the couple, ogled Teddy from the moment of hearing her hostess’s annoyed voice, looked over her shoulder every chance she got from near front of the small field, and liked what she saw. And bought him for her son, who hunted him with their pack, and hunt raced him, for a few seasons before going off to school, at which point Teddy became both a Whipper-in AND Guest horse, ever going in his bitless bridle.

But back to Dressage craft, and CONTACT. Here’s another video of Uta Graf testing to qualify for a Medien Cup Final in Holland, the same horse. Studying this video, I see only the most minor of outside rein contact problems in corners. And wonder whether the horse’s preparatory time might have been better spent in a loose ring snaffle than bitless bridle.

https://www.youtube.com/v/pUAMwuyAus0?version=3&hl=en_US&rel=0

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Who invented the Training Scale?

So who invented the dadgum Dressage Training Scale, anyway? Where did this pyramid of concepts come from?

Equestrian literary academics note that the Training Scale originated in turn-of-the-20th century Germany, and was first recorded in a 1912 German army training manual, refined in later editions, and adopted and incorporated into the German National Federation’s guidelines for riding and driving. Now the Training Scale is the foundation of every national federation’s educational endeavors.

As Dressage becomes increasingly popular around the globe, wee (sic!) practitioners continue to attempt to demystify it. For decades, Americans have grappled with understanding of German words that have no English equivalents, often blaming our misunderstandings on having read ‘bad translations.’ When verbalizing my own understanding of the Training Scale, I find it easiest to rely on definitions published by horsemen far more learned than myself, whom I will quote ad infinitum when, eventually, I flesh out the outline of my own fascinations.

Subconsciously contemplating that timeline-less project an early morn surfing the net, it dawned on me who really invented the Training Scale. Striding out before my very eyes came THE inventor of the Training Scale, exemplified here in the first 45 seconds of this excerpt from “Welcome to Flyinge,” youtubed by FlyingeStud (SWE):

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Even an untrained eye will recognize the intrinsic beauty of this spectacle. Rhythm, elasticity, unconstraint, balance, self-carriage, an ebullient desire to move forward, engagement, throughness, straightness, and elevation of motion are the expression of celebration of the day by this three week old foal.

This is the ideal to which is compared, 10 or 15 years later, a mature riding horse when it is judged in the sporting rectangle. This is the everyday Olympic ideal to which we compare our progress in the process of conserving each horse’s spirit and developing each horse’s innate locomotive abilities and qualities.

It is our horses who invented the Training Scale, and who teach it to us.

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